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Tough Love

Sermon: “Tough Love”

Lectionary Series A; Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Sunday, February 16, 2020 

Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:21-37


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

When I was a kid, our neighbors had a cottage on Gull Lake in Southwest Michigan that we enjoyed visiting. Michiganders call them cottages instead of cabins. Just FYI. At any rate, one of the things I can remember that we as kids liked to do was to take out the canoe on the lake and paddle around. But invariably, at some point, we would get a little out of control (I know that’s hard to fathom with boys). And when we would get out of control, we would rock the boat to the point that it would tip over. Then we would love to swim underneath the canoe where there was this pocket of air for us to go in as if we were in our very own submarine. Rocking the boat for us was a fun adventure. 

Rocking the boat in day to day living is hardly ever fun. In the Sermon on the Mount, one might say that as Jesus preached, he rocked the proverbial boat. And that is what happens when anyone has some tough love that they desire to share with another person. 

Tough love is saying what needs to be said while at the same time knowing that the one receiving the love may not like what they hear. There is a high risk of rejection and fallout, so rarely do we like to enter into situations where tough love is the topic of the day. We would much rather avoid such conversations in an effort not to rock the boat, in an effort to maintain the status quo, and keep the peace.

Jesus, as we know, from His own words did not come to keep the peace. He even said that He came to bring division. That division would come with the piercing and slicing reality of the truth of His Word. And whenever God’s Word of Law is spoken, there are those that receive it well, and there are certainly those that don’t. 

Today’s text from Matthew, chapter five is chock-full of Law. But like I teach our catechumens, God speaks a word of law to us out of love. The Ten Commandments are all given in love. The summary of the first table of the Law (Commandments 1-3) is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” The summary of the second table of the Law (Commandments 4-10) is “love your neighbor as yourself.” And the summary of all the Commandments, is one word: “Love.”

God loves us, and so He graciously gives us his commands because He doesn’t want us to separate ourselves from Him. He doesn’t want us to get hurt. He loves us. 

Think of it this way, and perhaps you have heard me say this before. If a young child were about to touch a hot stove, what would you do? Would you just sit back and watch them get hurt and burn themselves? No! We would quickly tell them “No!” and perhaps grab their hand and push it away from the stove. In love, we tell them what to do to keep them safe and free from harm. The same is true with God. He loves us enough tell us what we need to hear even though we may not like to hear it. He loves us with some tough love.

Today’s text gets at some very tough love, and it will no doubt rock your proverbial boat as a sinner who will stand before the Almighty God.

Just listen to verses twenty-one through twenty-four, for example: You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:21-24).

Jesus speaks a word of tough love to those of us that bear grudges in our hearts. For any of us who hold hatred in our hearts toward another Christian or insults them, Jesus says that we will be liable to the fires of hell. A word of love doesn’t get tougher than that. So, Jesus directs us to seek reconciliation whether we are the ones who sinned or have been sinned against.

This is a very difficult lesson. No matter if we are the ones who have sinned or have been sinned against, what is true more often than not is that both parties have hardened their hearts. So, Jesus calls us to repentance of our hardness of heart and forgive the trespasses of others as we have had our trespasses forgiven. 

But, if we rely upon our own tank to forgive, we will always run dry. We will never have enough forgiveness to share on our own. Which is why as we confess our own sins, Jesus gives us more than enough forgiveness to share. But notice that it is not our own forgiveness that we use to forgive others. It is His gift that is given to us and through us. (Pause)

Now take this next set of verses of tough love from Jesus: You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out, and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell (Matthew 5:27-30).

Jesus words literally cut to the heart today just as they did two thousand years ago. For that is what it all boils down to when it comes to sin: a matter of the heart. In the beatitudes, which is how Jesus began this sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).

Unfortunately, our hearts are far from pure. We have hatred in our hearts, which we addressed a moment ago. And we have lust in our hearts. Jesus says, even if we look with lustful intent at someone else, we have committed adultery in our heart. Just by looking with lustful intent.

Now no one is going to like to hear the following, but these are statistics of lustful intent in our day and age here in the twenty-first century: The average age of a young boy’s first exposure to pornography is eleven years old. The average age for girls’ first exposure is thirteen. Children under the age of ten make up twenty-two percent of on-line pornography consumption. Thirty-five percent of what is looked up on-line is pornography. And statistics reveal that 40 million people in America regularly look at porn. That’s one in every eight people in our country. These are heart-breaking statistics.

No one likes to hear about this, just like I am sure that no one liked to hear Jesus talk about it two thousand years ago. We would much rather like to think there isn’t an issue like this in our world and act like it could never effect our congregation. But when 1 in 8 are impacted by this sin in our country, how can we not say it has entered into our world as well?

Such statistics call upon us first and foremost to repent if we are caught in any of the sins of adultery. And it also calls upon us to seek help to safeguard ourselves and our children against further assaults from the evil one. 

No one ever thought that the invention of internet, along with things like the smart phone could become so dangerous. But that is the case nonetheless. The internet has become yet another avenue to attack us. Which is why we need to help ourselves and our kids to be safe-guarded from the assaults of the evil one. Be it filters that can be added to devices to accountability partners. We all need help when it comes to facing Satan. 

That help ultimately comes in our Savior who saw us in our sin and rocked the boats of our lives by speaking some words of tough love that we needed to hear. And we didn’t even get to everything in our text for today. Jesus goes on to speak on his desire for marriage and his desire for us to speak the truth, but there just isn’t time for us to get to all of what Jesus said in our text for today.

The thing is, that even though hearing the Law may rock our boat, remember that Jesus says it all because He is lovingly leading us to repentance. That is, after all, the reason for the law…to show our sins and our need for a Savior. Jesus is our Savior, and He loves us enough to say what needs to be said and to love us with some tough love. (Pause)

Think about that child by the stove again. Because that is how God showed His love for us. Seeing us in our sin, doomed to die eternally, God didn’t sit back and watch us get burned. He said, “No!” And with His Son, He reached down from heaven in the person of His Son. 

But when His Son hung upon the cross, He did sit back and let Him take the heat of hell in our place. In the toughest love ever, the Father sat back and watched His one and only Son get burned by the fires of hell as He endured the wrath and separation of God because of our sins of hatred, lust, and on and on the list goes. In love for us our God experienced hell on earth as He hung there to die our death. None of us can begin to fathom just how tough that must have been for the Father to sit back and watch His child suffer and die. But that is what it took…that is what it took to save us from sin and death. 

For God so loved the world that He gave. How can we not marvel at the sacrifice that the Father made? Parents, can you imagine giving your child over to death to save another? Kids, can you imagine your parents giving you over to death to save another? No. We can’t. But He can, and He did.

And because He did, your sins and mine are forgiven. That is why we come here. Our hearts are not pure. We are filled with hate and lust, but the Father of all compassion sent His Son to create in us clean hearts. And thanks to Jesus, that is what we have been given. 

In the forgiveness of our sins, and in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives us His perfect self. He removes all sin. He forgives us our trespasses, and in turn we can forgive the trespasses of others. No matter our sinful situation that we find ourselves in, we always have hope with our God. For we have a God who with the toughest love ever, gave His Son to save us. And for sinners in need of a Savior, that’s all we need. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

A Beautiful Light to the Gentiles

Feb 9 2020 A Beautiful Light to the Gentiles; Isaiah 58:3-9; 1 Cor. 2:1-12; Mt. 5:13-20

            Black ivory coffee. Some people love a good cup of coffee. I like coffee from time to time. Starbucks, Caribou, Columbian. That all sounds good, doesn’t it? But have you tried the black ivory coffee? Well black ivory coffee is made in Thailand, and it is made by having elephants eat coffee beans, which is then pooped out by the elephants. Then the beans are picked out, cleaned and made into coffee. I don’t know about you, but that makes me say, “Yuck!” Yuck. I don’t want that coffee. 

Well, in Matthew 5, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” But, if salt loses its saltiness, well then “Yuck. That’s no good.” And what good is a light if you are just going to cover it in the darkness, yuck. Well, Jesus’ words on salt and light are our focus today.  

And to explore this concept we will first begin with an illustration. A story about Kylie Bisutti. Kylie Bisutti is a former model and the author of the book I’m No Angel, published in 2013.  In the book she describes a bit of her life story. Bisutti had always dreamed of becoming a model at a very young age and her dreams would come true, but it wasn’t what she imagined. She did not grow up Christian, but became Christian in high school, at the age of 15, after one of her friends invited her to church. It was during this time also that she was just beginning to launch a modeling career. Later she married a Christian man who had a great influence on her, but when she was modeling at the time she didn’t think twice about the influence her modeling career had on her. But after being told she should flirt with celebrities and after not feeling very dignified during photoshoots eventually she gave up modeling altogether. This inspired the book. She put as much space as she could with that type of lifestyle. She turned down the show Dancing with the Stars. She turned down a role on a TV show on the CW. She gave it all up. She has said of her past life, “The truth is... I used to live a life that was detestable. I used to live a life indulging my desires, rationalizing why what I was doing was ok and normal yet the more I read the Bible, God convicted me of my decisions…I’m so glad God changed my heart.” In the end Kylie is glad with the results that God has done to her life. She is happy and wholly satisfied how Jesus has made her among the righteous and how He has transformed her life into something beautiful.

            To put it another way, Kylie has salt in her display to world. When she shows her obedience to the Lord. When she shares how Jesus has changed her life, she is acting like a light to the world. Much of Kylie’s former life was just kind of yucky and she knew it. Because it was full of sin. But Jesus redeemed it and transformed it. 

            Concerning light and salt, Jesus also states that this salt and light is met with some conflict. It is met with some friction. Jesus implies to us that the world is darkness. That is why it needs light. And the darkness often would like to stay dark. The world would like to stay plain and dull in sinfulness. Jesus further describes this conflict when He says, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” And in that one verse Jesus summarizes all conflicts in the world. 

            And where does that conflict start? It all starts in a garden. It all starts when temptation comes to man in the garden of Eden, and man was overcome by temptation. When man and woman disowned their Creator. And why is that significant? Because it is the moment when darkness tried to snuff out the Light. It is the moment when salt became tasteless. And then yuck, sin enter the world. And in sin you and I have a desire to forfeit that light and salt. We have a desire to rebel. 

            Now, in history there are at least two ways many have rebelled in darkness, rebelled in bland dullness. The first is to serve ourselves. To serve ourselves and not God. That really is the prevailing message of the world. Serve yourself. Don’t serve God. We are our own masters. We don’t need a pie in the sky God to tell us what is good and not good for us. And this idea manifests in many ways. For example, hedonism. Hedonism says, “Seek pleasure. Avoid suffering. That’s all that matters.” Do what is good for you. Avoid harm. Be tolerant. Advocate tolerance. That’s all that matters. And that can appear to be sound advice, because it is often understood as, “Isn’t it good when we are all just happy? Isn’t it good that you’re happy and I’m happy. The Hindu is happy where he is at and the Muslim is happy where they are at?” Well, it’s a dangerous road. And it is a dangerous road because it is chaos. And chaos is exactly what Satan always wanted to get. Because it is lawlessness. It is disorder. It is wild, rampant and out of control. All that ends in chaos and disorder. And that is what unfolded when Cain killed Abel. That is what unfolded when many left God’s Light and spit out His salt and became wicked. In wickedness we say yuck to God even when it is our sin that is yuck. 

            Well, the second way we often rebel is to create a new order. The first way to rebel ends in chaos, the second is to reorder God’s creation in a way we like it better. For instance, legalism. What did Jesus warn His people against the Pharisees over and over again? By and large their legalism. The Pharisees thought they had it all together because they thought they were following all of God’s commands to the letter. Only what they really did was they created a new religion. They were following an order, just it wasn’t God’s order. And legalism isn’t just found in the way of the Pharisees. It’s found in most other false religions. Hinduism and Buddhism emphasize working your hardest to escape suffering. Islam likewise emphasizes being on your best behavior so as not to displease Allah. Furthermore, legalism is found in governments, and businesses, and families. It is the voice that domineers the law just for the sake of the law. Do it or else! Or else you will have it coming to you. Legalism doesn’t seek to pursue people personally. Legalism is not gentle in love. Legalism seeks to destroy anything that doesn’t measure up to the ideal. Legalism crushes free thought and critical thinking. And so what often happens in legalism is you have a clique mentality. And if you are in the clique—if you are on the team, so to speak—well then we’re good. You will be valued as okay. But if you don’t fall in line, well then I’m sorry but you don’t deserve anything. You don’t deserve to have the privileges others are granted. You don’t deserve to speak. You don’t deserve even your life, and we might just take that from you. From Pharisees to dictators to communists, this pattern happens over and over again. And if you live in that environment long enough, you can’t but help and think “Yuck. There has got to be a better way than this.”

            Now, what is interesting about both pitfalls, serving ourselves in chaos and serving another religious order, in something like legalism, is it all falls under 1st commandment stuff. You shall have no other gods before Me. Why shall we have no other gods before God. Because without the true living God we dissolve into chaos and we dissolve into false religions. We lose order because we are not connected to the God of order. We then walk in darkness, and are dull tasteless death destroyers because we are ordered to serve ourselves and false religions.

            So, what did God do about this? God began to bring back order. He established Himself as the only true reliable and living Lord. He demonstrated love, mercy, and justice. He communicated His Word to His prophets. He made promises and plans to restore us and He sealed it with a covenant. And from Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, to David, to Elijah, to Isaiah, all the way down to God incarnate Himself—that is down to Jesus—God has carried out His salvation plan. And Jesus is the centerpiece of it all. Everything hinges on Him and His message and His mission. 

Jesus redirected us toward Himself with His words. With His words like His sermon on the mount, and parables about lost sons and lost sheep, and words about being born again in Him, having new life in Him, words about properly carrying out God’s instructions. Jesus spoke His message. Jesus healed lepers, gave the blind sight, cast out demons, and performed many miracles. And it was all a big preparation to get us all to gather to Him. Because soon He would carry out His goal. He would go to the cross. And there on the cross mercy and judgment came together in one event. Jesus was judged and condemned to suffer the wrath of God. Jesus suffered so that mercy would be bestowed upon us. It is the ultimate act of love. And in this act chaos is brought to order. And all false religions are brought to shame. And it is the beginning of a major transformation. It is where God took something yucky and turned it into something savory. 

Because in Jesus we are given light that illumines and salt that gives taste. We are reordered in the direction of the Creator. We are taught to love as Jesus loved us. Not to love like legalistic religions teach. And not to love only ourselves, but to love sacrificially, because Jesus loves us sacrificially. In Jesus we are taught to practice patience and kindness. We are taught to be a light and beacon for the non-Christian world. To direct the world to God’s healing by showing the world that we go to Him for healing all the time. We share the message of God because that message changed our lives. We keep a watchful eye to guard ourselves from sinning because it is so easy to do. We at times defend ourselves and the innocent from violence and bloodshed with the sword because God protects us and He stops violence and chaos when it is destroying His creation. We baptize and we teach. We make disciples. We let the salt God gave us season us. And we let the light God gave us shine. That is our response to the message and action of Jesus. That is our response to the message and action of God. For, we are light only when we are transformed and illuminated by the Light source. We only have salt in us when we are fed by the grace of God. So that through Jesus we are tasty and delightful to God. And we shine because Jesus shines. 

So, here are the key elements: God’s Word, God’s divine action, and our response. To get a more concrete picture of this, let us return to our Kylie example. Kylie Bisutti heard God’s Word and through it the Holy Spirit made her a believer. There her life was reordered. And her response was a positive yes—yes, I will heed and harken to God’s words.  It took some time before she realized that she was living a life of chaos and disorder. That there was a major discrepancy between her lifestyle and occupation and living out her Christian faith.  But when she kept reading God’s Word, God took further divine action to turn her heart and draw her even closer to Him. The “Aha” light went on and Kylie would not compromise God’s Word. So, she severed ties with modeling and fame. She was made salt and light in her actions, all initiated and motivated by God actions. And salt and light she was, when she was kind to non-Christians who took offense at her words. She has spoken her testimony in hopes others are also transformed to light and salt and drawn closer to God. And it is not she who transforms, but it is the Living and Loving God who transforms. 

So, do you want that black ivory coffee? Yuck, no. God doesn’t want it either. Let Jesus transform you. Be salt. Be a beautiful light. A beautiful light to ourselves, to our families, to the gentiles. Let your works shine forth. For with Jesus, we are happy and satisfied. For He has made us something that is not yucky, but savory. He has made us righteous. He has transformed our lives into something beautiful. May that be ours today and forevermore. Amen. 

Depart in Peace

Sermon: “Depart in Peace (United We Go)”

Lectionary Series A; Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany; Stewardship Series (United in Christ)

Sunday, January 19, 2020 

Gospel Reading: Luke 2:22-40


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:25-32).

As a pastor, I am given a remarkable privilege to sit at the bedside of many who are near the time of their death. In some rare instances, the person who is near dying is still able to communicate to some degree. In even rarer instances, the person is still able to receive the body and blood of Jesus one last time before they close their eyelids in death.

In these ever so rare instances, it is such a joy to be able to boldly proclaim that the very body and blood of Jesus that they consume now is the same Jesus that they will soon see in heaven. I can remember instances where I know this was the last meal they ate on earth…the foretaste of the feast to come.

When you come forward to the table of the Lord, that is what you are receiving. Though your eyes may tell you it is only a wafer of bread and a sip of wine, God’s Word tells you it is none other than His Son, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

That means that in a matter of moments, you will see Jesus. You will see Him as He reveals Himself to you. And upon receiving Him into Your body, forgiveness, life, and salvation is now yours. You are now at peace with God.

All those sins that you have committed. Forgiven. All those sins committed against you. Gone. You are completely and totally cleansed of all that once doomed you to eternal death and damnation. And with that…with Jesus in you…you are able to depart in peace.

It is by no mistake that the Nunc Dimittis is located in the committal at the graveside before the casket or the urn is laid into its resting place in the ground. This person who once confessed Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord has now departed in peace. Their soul is now with Jesus. And with the body and blood of Jesus in their body, they will soon be raised to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Ask any pastor, and many will tell you that a funeral is their favorite part of ministry. It is not because we have some love of the morbid reality of death. No, this is a time when all earthly things don’t matter at all and everyone is tuned in to hear God’s saving words of comfort. And what greater words can we hear than those words of the Nunc Dimittis as we grieve: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.”

The truth of the matter is, every time we receive the Lord’s Supper, God is preparing us for the day of our death. Think about it. Why do we go to the Lord’s Supper? We are sinners in need of forgiveness. That is exactly what we receive at the table of the Lord. Forgiveness. And as forgiven children of God, we are now at peace with God. No separation exists between you and the almighty God. You are now at peace.

Simeon had been given this awesome privilege to know from the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he personally saw the Messiah with his own eyes. So, with regularity, he went to the temple of the Lord to await the arrival of the promised Christ-child.

Then one day, the day we mark today, the Presentation of Our Lord, there He was! Jesus’ parents came to fulfill the law that any child that first opened the womb would be presented in the temple and called holy to the Lord, and to offer a sacrifice according to the Law of the Lord.

Here His parents were to do just that. And when Simeon saw them, he could not hold it in. He had to go and just grab ahold of baby Jesus and hoist Him in the air. Any parent who hears of a stranger hoisting their child out of their arms and into the air is kind of freaking out right now. But not Joseph and Mary. The verse after our text says that they ‘marveled’ as Simeon held their child in the air and spoke the words of the Nunc Dimittis that we know so well as we feast upon the body and blood of Jesus.

That marveling is what we are invited to do here today as we are welcomed to see with our own eyes our Savior Jesus as He comes to us today. How is it that we who are poor, miserable sinners are given such a privilege as we are here today? And not just today, but Sunday, after Sunday, after Sunday. 

But it can be so easy to take this gift for granted. It can be so easy to cast aside being in the presence of Jesus and think that we have better things to do on a Sunday. It can be so easy to teach our kids that going to church is optional, even though our parents would have never thought of such a thing. But, that is where we are at in our world today.

When we choose to be elsewhere on Sundays other than the house of the Lord, we miss out on what Simeon so beautifully stated: It is because of this child that I can depart in peace. Nothing else in this world can provide the true peace that passes all understanding that Jesus can and does.

But our desires are so often tainted by a world of sin, and we look for peace in the things of the world: financial security, selfish pride, more stuff. We look for peace in the tangible things of this world, but as the saying goes: “He who dies with the most toys still dies.”

I wonder if that sinks in for us as we navigate this stewardship initiative. Do we hear these sermons and these presentations by our leadership and do we just let them go in one ear and out the other? Or do we really think about what we have heard, ponder it, and think about how we might use what God has given us to His glory, rather than our own?

As you think and ponder on that question, I want you to ponder on this: the One hoisted up in the air in Simeon’s arms. Any of us who have ever held a baby up in the air knows that it is a beautiful image to behold. Often times, the baby smiles as they are whisked up to higher heights. They look around and behold the world from a whole new perspective, one they would never have had unless they were not held up by the arms of another. Keep that image in your mind: Jesus hoisted up in the air.

Now picture that those arms of Simeon are replaced with the outstretched arms of a cross. And instead of the gentle hands of an elderly man holding him there fixated above all those around, instead what fixes Him there are nails. Nails driven through His hands. And instead of someone speaking the beautiful words of the Nunc Dimittis, now there are people gathered around hurling insults at Him as He suffers in anguish. And where Jesus may have smiled and looked around from those heights as an infant in awe of the world around Him, now He looks down on those below and says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And with His last breath utters, “It is finished.” 

Hold that image in your mind, the image of the Son of God hoisted in the air dying your death, forgiving your sins, loving you beyond all measure. For it is in that moment that your departing in peace was made possible.

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.”

Brothers and sisters, united in Christ, this is what our life of stewardship flows from. All of our giving, be it time, talents, treasures. It all flows from the pierced, bloodied hands, feet, and body of a Savior who loves us beyond all measure. We give because we can’t help but give thanks to our God for all that He has given us. 

I know that sometimes we lose sight of what it means to be a steward of God’s gifts. We get distracted. We sin. We wander away. But time and again, like Simeon, we return back here…into the house of the Lord. And it is here as we see Jesus once again with our own eyes that our life of stewardship is renewed. We can’t help but return thanks to our God who gave His Son so that together as His saints, we may depart in peace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Called to Unity

Sermon: “Called to Unity”

Lectionary Series A; Third Sunday after the Epiphany; Stewardship Series (United in Christ)

Sunday, January 26, 2020; National Lutheran Schools Week Service

Epistle Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:10-18


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians: I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment (1st Corinthians 1:10).

My brothers and sisters in Christ, God calls us through the apostle Paul to be in unity with one another. He calls us to say the same thing, to be on the same page, to be pulling in the same direction, to have the same slogans.

If you walk in the door by the office, and take a right toward the gymnasium and look up to your left, there on the wall are the four pillars of the covenant of our ministry together. Those four pillars are Unity, Integrity, Excellence, and Service.

We are called to be in unity with one another. Under that heading of Unity, our covenant states that we are: “Baptized in the name of the one true God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) we are joined together in a common faith, common worship, and a common purpose to serve the Lord and all people while using our individual and collective gifts.”

A common purpose. What is our common purpose here together? Indeed our mission statement at Zion is Sharing Hope Teaching Christ through Word and Sacrament liturgical living. That is certainly what we are all about here at Zion. And the submission of our school states that we are Christ-Centered, Academically Strong, and Respectfully Operated. This is also what we are all about here at Zion.

But, when we think about our kids, what is our common purpose that we have for ourselves with regard to our children? For that, we need to dig a little deeper, deeper into the Word of God. Proverbs 22:6 would seem to say it best: Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not turn from it.

Our common purpose here that we are called to join in unity with one another is to train up our children in the way of the Lord so that when they get old, they will still be confessing the faith that they were given in their baptism by the Triune God. Isn’t that our hope? Isn’t that our purpose? Isn’t that our common goal?

Pastor LaPlant and I could tell you that one of the greatest joys that we have is when we see that goal come to fruition. Sitting at the bedside of someone nearing their last breath. Hearing them confess the faith they were given in their baptism as they look forward to beholding Jesus with their own eyes in heaven is one of the greatest things we are privileged to be a part of. Again, I ask, is that not our common goal for both ourselves and our kids?

Our theme verse for this year really sets forth that goal. Psalm 23:6, which we spoke earlier in the Psalmody says: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

Goodness and mercy. It is the goodness and mercy that God gives in His Word and the Holy Supper that will strengthen us to make the journey to our final day where we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. But we can’t do it on our own.

God invites us to look long term here. Think of it as a marathon, and not a sprint. What is it that God gives us to make the journey to heaven? He gives us Himself in His Word and Sacrament. This is the food that we need in order to endure to life everlasting.

Any of us who have kids in our house understand that. How often do our kids need to be fed? If we asked them, it would probably be every twenty minutes. Certainly if we have teenagers. So it is with all of us. We need what God gives in order to continue on in our life of faith.

This is why God’s Word calls us to be in worship, to not neglect meeting together as it says in the book of Hebrews. It is in God’s house where we are united with Him through His Word and Sacrament, and where are we are united with each other as we partake of the Lord’s Supper. To abandon this practice of joining in the house of the Lord will only be detrimental to our life of faith before God and our life of faith lived out with others. 

St. Paul says what will also be detrimental to us is if there are divisions among us. Again he says, I appeal to you…that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united.

Unfortunately, the devil enters in and drives division among us…in our churches, in our school, in our homes, in our workplaces, and everywhere really. 

I hate to break it to you, but even though we are Christians in a Christian school, we are still sinners. And sinners sin. Sinners cause separation. Sinners cause division. It’s what we do best…unfortunately.

St. Paul’s admonition to have no divisions among us is a call to repentance. If we are fostering division in any way, we are sinning. We are separating ourselves from God. We are placing ourselves on a slippery slope that leads away from Jesus. The wages of sin is death. Jesus doesn’t want us to die eternally. So through Paul, he calls us to unity with one another. To be on the same page. And that all starts with Jesus and His cross. He bids us all to come and die. To confess our divisiveness, and be forgiven. 

What does this call to unity call upon us to confess? Let’s ask ourselves as students and parents, faculty and staff? Have we been unkind to each other? Have we formed cliques and excluded others? Have we said things that have only cut others down and hurt their reputation? Have we chosen to talk behind someone’s back rather than go and address the issue directly with the person we are talking about? Have we hurt someone?

If we take time to truly assess our thoughts, words, and deeds in light of these questions, there is not-a-one of us here who is innocent. There is not-a-one of us who could have not have handled something differently or said something in a different way. We have all in some way fostered division among us, and we have all been hurt by divisions in our lives. We are all in need of repentance and healing, and we are all in need of change in our sinful ways. So, let us confess, and be forgiven in the name of Jesus. 

That is honestly one of the greatest joys of serving at Zion Lutheran School. We are privileged to be able to address the divisiveness of sin head on with the Law and the Gospel of God’s Word.

Our students are taught that the law shows their sins and their need for a Savior. Teachers are then able to show the student the error of their ways. And then, upon the student’s confession, the teacher has the joy of speaking the Gospel that shows their Savior as they share the absolving forgiveness given in Jesus.

That is true for our students, and that is true for all of us as Christians. We each are sinners. There is no way around that fact. Just like there is no way around the fact that we have all been the cause of division in our life. But all hope is not lost…and that’s because of Jesus.

Jesus entered into the great divide that existed between God and us because of our sin. He willingly came down from heaven to earth to take our sins upon Himself and to suffer all upon the cross of Calvary. There, He endured the division from His Father as He called out to Him, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” 

There as He bled and died our death, the division from God as well as our death were done for once and for all. Now are sins are forgiven, healing from division is given, and our salvation is secured. We have been joined to Jesus.

This is what we had opportunity to rejoice in here today as we were all blessed to witness Kim, Sydney, and River be baptized in the name of the Triune God and welcomed into His family. No longer are they separated from God, but through water and the Word, God has worked faith in them to believe in Jesus as their Savior and now they are children of the heavenly Father.

We join in rejoicing in this reality for them, just as we join in rejoicing as a body of believers in Christ. We have been called to unity with one another with a common purpose. We have been joined together to come alongside of each other to help raise these students in the one true faith to life everlasting. 

Parents and students, faculty and staff, all in a partnership together. Now that is certainly something to rejoice about. It is just as our theme verses for this National Lutheran Schools Week states: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1st Thessalonians 5:16-18).

As you walk down that same hallway that I told you before as you are headed toward the gym, there is a bulletin board that has this on full display. Check it out if you are here for lunch tomorrow, because I can honestly say, that is the unity I am blessed to behold day in and day out in our school, and no doubt you see it too as we all seek to train up our children in the way they should go.

For those of you that won’t see it, let me describe it for you. It just happens to be located under those four pillars of our covenant of Unity, Integrity, Excellence, and Service. There are five words on the bulletin board and underneath there is a picture of our students. Those five words are Joyful, Thankful, Peaceful, Faithful, and Hopeful. And in the pictures, you will see our students rejoicing together, praying together, pledging allegiance to the United States flag and the Christian flag together, singing together, and the last one shows them gathered together at the foot of the cross.

And it’s that last one that really hits home the nature of what it means to be called to unity. We all come as sinners, but thanks to the division Christ endured on that cross, we have been united…united to Christ, and united to each other. Thanks be to God! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

"Called to be Saints Together....

Sermon: “Called to be Saints Together (United with each other)”

Lectionary Series A; Second Sunday after the Epiphany; Stewardship Series (United in Christ)

Sunday, January 19, 2020 

Epistle Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:1-9


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

The Apostle Paul writes: To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. He then further writes: God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1st Corinthians 1:2-3, 9).

Saints together. Fellowship. These are words of camaraderie, family, and teamwork. To be called together into fellowship informs us that we are surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ here in this congregation, throughout the world, and even with the saints who are already in heaven.

Have you ever stopped to consider that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer or confess the Creed, that thousands and even millions of Christians are doing the same thing throughout the world? Perhaps it is in a different time zone or a different language, but through it all, we are called to be saints together. We are united with each other into a fellowship centered on Jesus Christ.

Who is it in your life that helped you to become a saint in this fellowship? For most of us, it was our parents. They were the ones who brought us to the baptismal font to be baptized.

Last week, we focused our attention on baptism. Baptism unites us to Jesus as He joins Himself to us. Baptism is where our life of stewardship begins as our old sinful self is drowned and we are raised with Jesus to live anew before God. In our baptism, we receive all the treasures of heaven, and all we have is given to us to further God’s kingdom.

I am curious. How many of you here were baptized here in this very church? Wow! Wherever you were baptized in the name of the Triune God, that is where you were called to be children of God, called to be saints together, called into the fellowship with Jesus, God’s Son.

Now since the day of your baptism, who are those people who have encouraged you to remain in this fellowship as saints together? When you stop and think about that for a moment, you quickly realize that you did not get to where you are now on your own. God has placed all sorts of people around you throughout your life so that you may be encouraged to remain in this faith-filled fellowship. So who are those people in your life? 

I can remember Reseda Wickenhauser telling me about the impact of Teacher Ernst (as he was called) all those years ago here at Zion’s Day School. There I would sit next to her for private communion at the nursing home, and even at the age of 102, she could still tell me of the impact that her grade school teacher had had upon her all these years later as she still confessed the same faith she had been taught nearly a century prior.

I can remember Harold Hill at the age of 96 telling me about his pastor teaching him confirmation and how he still would recite his confirmation hymn before he went to bed each night. Only it was in German. “So Nimm Den Meine Hande Und Fuhre Mich.” “Lord, take my hand and lead me upon life’s way, direct, protect, and feed me from day to day, without your grace and favor, I go astray, so take my hand O Savior, and lead the way.”

For me, it was my youth leader, who looked at me on the first time we met and told me I was headed with him to Chicago for a youth evangelism ministry called Ongoing Ambassadors for Christ. Though I can remember being terrified before going, I knew after that weekend, and with my youth director’s encouragement, that the Lord was calling me to serve as a pastor.

How about you? Who are those people who have helped you to remain saints together in fellowship? A parent, a friend, a teacher? No doubt you have a few stories you could share yourselves. And that is the natural result when baptized believers are called to be saints together in fellowship with Jesus Christ. There is this beautiful bond formed between us by the blood of Jesus where we rejoice in the fact that we are all in this together. We all have the same goal in mind. We all long to be with Jesus for all eternity. 

Here at Zion as those who are United in Christ, we are “Baptized in the name of the one true God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) we are joined together in a common faith, common worship, and a common purpose to serve the Lord and all people while using our individual and collective gifts” (Zion’s covenant).

That common purpose here at Zion is our Mission Statement: Share Hope and Teach Christ through Word and Sacrament liturgical living. As sinners in need of a Savior, we live our lives fed and nourished by God’s Word and Sacrament so that we are renewed and refreshed to Share Hope and Teach Christ.

This is what our life of stewardship is all about. As baptized believers, we keep coming back here to gather together in fellowship with one another. We know we can’t serve the Savior without His strength, and we know we can’t do it alone either. We need help. So God calls us to be saints together who serve the Savior with the many gifts He has given to us. 

This invites us to ask of ourselves, what opportunities lay before us now that could impact the faith life of another in a positive way? What conversations could we be having that we aren’t now that could help guide others to the faith? You know, like the ones we have benefited from when others took time with us. What ways could we be serving in our home, congregation, neighborhood, and workplace that might open the door for others to grow in their faith, while at the same time, we benefit from serving as well?

You see, that is the awesome reality of being a part of a congregation. We have been brought together as a family of faith. We each have the privilege of having an impact on each other’s faith. It takes a village, right?

No doubt as we think of those people who have had such an impact in our lives, we could all echo the words of St. Paul: I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1st Corinthians 1:4-8).

I can’t echo those words enough. I can’t thank God enough for the grace He has given to you, and for the countless gifts He has bestowed upon you, and that in that in the end, you will stand guiltless before God thanks to Jesus.

Guiltless. That’s what we long for. Each and every one of us gathers here for one united purpose. We long to be guiltless before God. But there is not-a-one of us who is guiltless. We are all guilty. We have all sinned in thought, word, and deed. We are all doomed to be damned in our sinfulness. And that’s why we gather together here. We are poor, miserable sinners who long for forgiveness, life, and salvation. And that is what we receive thanks to the grace of God given in Christ Jesus. Salvation with Jesus.

Have you ever stopped to consider that as we gather as saints together in this fellowship? Have you ever stopped to think that as we gather today, we are preparing for that day when we will gather together for all eternity to rejoice in God’s salvation given in Jesus? Yes, one day we will stand before God, guiltless, free from sin, covered in the shed blood of Jesus, wearing robes of righteousness, purchased for us by Jesus on the cross of Calvary.

I can remember one gentleman that I visited several times before his death. He was stricken with cancer, and with each visit, we knew it was not going to be long before the Lord called him home. But every time, I heard in his voice this great confidence that this was not the end of the story. I heard that confidence in the way we would end our conversation. We would always end by exchanging these words: “I will see you again.” Each of us knew that if this was the last time we saw each other on earth, it would not be the last time we would see each other for eternity. I look forward to the day that we can meet in the presence of Jesus and say to each other: “I told you I would see you again.”

That is what we have been called to as saints together. We have been called to something so much more than just this temporal earthly life. Our call to be saints together ushers us into the halls of heaven. And in a matter of moments we will receive a foretaste of that feast to come.

In Christ’s body and blood, we are joined in a fellowship as saints together where our God makes sure that we are not lacking anything as we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. Forgiveness, life, salvation. He gives us all that we need and then some. Our tanks are never empty. 

And that goes for our life as stewards of God’s gifts as well. We who are not lacking in any spiritual gift, are blessed to share from what we have been given to share: the grace of God what was given us in Christ Jesus.

So, as those who have been enriched in every way and those who are guiltless before God, let us give thanks for our fellow saints around us, and continually look for ways to encourage and build one another up in the faith. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Baptized into Christ (United with Him)

Sermon: “Baptized into Christ (United with Him)”

Lectionary Series A; The Baptism of Our Lord

Sunday, January 12, 2020 

Epistle Reading: Romans 6:1-11


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:3-5).

Today’s sermon is about baptism. I can’t think about baptism and not think about our children. I can’t help but think about Christopher who I baptized in the hospital before he was airlifted to Children’s Hospital not knowing if he would survive. I can’t help but think about William who was baptized right here, and the peace it gave when Pastor Lucas came to minister to us in the hospital when Will was diagnosed with Infantile Spasms, a rare form of epilepsy. I can’t help but think about Nora who was baptized at the outdoor polka service, and the peace it gave us again when Pastor Lucas came to minister to us when she had open heart surgery. I can’t help but think about Lydia who was also baptized here at this very font, in this very chancel.

I can’t think of baptism and not think of all of the people I have baptized right here. There have been over 120 baptisms here at Zion in my time here, many of which I have had the privilege of officiating at. I still remember my first baptism at Zion, Brooke Siegle. Hard to believe she will be going through the Rite of First Communion here in a few months. My how time flies when you are having fun!

I also can’t think of baptism and not think of those babies who were not able to be baptized, like our child that didn’t make it to delivery, and so many countless others. In sorrow such as this, I can’t help but thank God for His mercies that are new every morning. We who grieve rest in the mercies of the Almighty God to save these children, for He loves them even much more than we do.

When it comes to baptism, I can’t help but think about my parents who brought me to the font at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Flushing, MI on April 5, 1981. There I was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There I was given the gift of faith to believe in Jesus as my Savior from sin, death, and the devil. What stories have you been told about your baptism?

When it comes to baptism, I can’t help but think about Jesus. The One who was baptized by the John the Baptist in the Jordan River, where the Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove and the Father spoke from the heavens: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

To think that Jesus would willingly be baptized to die…To think that He would voluntarily take our sin upon Himself and into Himself…To think that He would choose to have to face the wrath of God that we were due…It is so impossible to fathom…so impossible to understand.


How can we not say that we have a loving God when we truly consider what His baptism meant? His being baptized meant He now would have to die. That’s the price that had to be paid for taking on our sin…death.

And that’s also what I think about when it comes to baptism. I think of the ones who have died in the faith here at Zion. I think of the pall being placed upon their casket reminding us all that they were clothed in a robe of Christ’s righteousness. 

I think of speaking those words before the processional: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” And then the congregation responding: “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”

In fact, this is why I wear the robe that I do. It isn’t because it is a fashion trend of some kind. It is to remind us all that we are covered in a robe of Christ’s righteousness. We are made clean, washed in the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Your sins and mine. (Pause)

Now I know this is supposed to be the start of a stewardship initiative. And you might be wondering why all the talk about baptism. But how can we not start at where our life of faith truly began? 

Our life of faith began at baptism. Baptism is where Jesus joined Himself to us. Now it can sometimes be easy to gloss over that reality. But consider the alternative.

If Jesus doesn’t join Himself to us and we are not clothed in His robe of righteousness that He purchased with His own blood, then where does that leave us?

We would be left uncovered, unprotected. We would have nothing to keep us safe from the devil, and even worse, nothing to keep us safe from God’s wrath against sin. We would be left exposed.

But God, in His infinite wisdom sent His Son to be exposed to a world of sin. His baptism makes plain that very reality. He was baptized to take on our sin. And because of that, there would be a day yet coming that God would allow His Son to be exposed to the whole world.

On Calvary, Jesus was left exposed to the world of sin and shame as His robe and clothes were literally stripped from Him. And as He hung subject to scorn and shame, He was also exposed to the fiery wrath of His Father that we were meant to endure because of our sin.

But it was in that great act of love and mercy that the greatest exchange took place. He took on our sin and shame and in turn gave us His robe of righteousness. We are now covered in the shed blood of Jesus.

This is what is given to us at baptism. Now instead of eternal death to look forward to, we have eternal life to look forward to. Just as our text says: For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:5).

In our baptism, our old sinful self was drowned and done away with. And also in our baptism, we were raised and given a new life. Jesus’ life. Jesus is now alive and well within us as He has joined Himself to us.

Our new life is now focused on love for Him and love for neighbors. It is no longer self-centered and self-motivated. As baptized believers, we now live for Him. And that is where our life of stewardship comes in. 

As it says in the Rite of Holy Baptism, we have been made “heirs of all the treasures of heaven.” And not just in heaven, but the fact is that everything we have comes from Him. 

Everything. Think about all that you have. It’s not yours. It’s God’s, and He has blessed you in baptism to put everything He has given you to use to love Him and love your neighbor, to further His kingdom.

So ask yourself: Is that how you are using your God-given gifts in life? Are you using it for self, or for God and His glory? 

Unfortunately, there is not a one of us here that will pass that test with flying colors. We all think far too much of ourselves. We are a me, myself, and I people. And that’s why it is good that we are here.

For here is where we remember our baptism. That’s why we are invited to make the sign of the cross. And that’s why we start each service with confession and absolution to kill the old sinful Adam in us.

We all think far too much of ourselves. When it comes to the way we spend our time, spend our money, and use our God-given gifts. We all need to repent, because we all fall prey to the idolatry of selfishness.

This stewardship initiative is an opportunity to return to our baptism and confess our selfish ways. It is an opportunity to admit that our focus has been far too much on ourselves, and nowhere near the furthering of God’s kingdom.

And I am well aware that no one likes to talk about stewardship. No one likes to talk about money. But stewardship is more than just money. Stewardship is a spiritual reality, a spiritual discipline. It is coming to terms with who it is that I fear, love, and trust. And the way we spend our time, our money, and our talents is a great litmus test of who it is we trust. And all too often, it isn’t God first. It’s us. It’s me, myself, and I.

So here we gather at the font, and here we come to die once again, to kill the Old Adam. Here we come confident as baptized children of the Heavenly Father to rejoice that as we confess our selfishness, so too will we be raised and forgiven.

And that is what you are. You are resurrected and forgiven children of the Heavenly Father named and claimed by Jesus who was baptized to die your death. And that is what He did. For you. And for me. 

As we gather at the font, I also can’t help but think about that reality. We are united to Christ, and we are united to each other. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, you are my brothers and sisters from another mother, but the same Father…the same Heavenly Father. We are brought together to be a family to love God and love others. To Share Hope and Teach Christ. And it is so exciting to think of all that He has called us to do together to further His kingdom.

And that’s where we will pick it up next week, when we focus on being Called to be Saints Together. Join us next week as we continue this journey of faith together rejoicing in the fact that we are United in Christ. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Prophesied Protection Provided

Sermon: “Prophesied Protection Provided”

Lectionary Series A; First Sunday after Christmas

Sunday, December 29, 2019 

Gospel Reading: Matthew 2:13-23


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Today’s text in many ways takes the “Merry” out of “Merry Christmas”. Though we are only four days after the celebration of the birth of Christ, our text for today is unsettling. 

Yesterday was the Feast of the Holy Innocents. It is a day that commemorates those who were two years old and younger who died innocently at the hands of King Herod who attempted to kill the Christ-child.

Our American ears hear this, and we do not understand what it means to be attacked by a paranoid, vengeful dictator. We are fortunate enough to live in a land where we are not being forced from our land, or even worse, our life is being threatened. Thankfully, these are not realities for us.

But just imagine the comfort today’s text brings to those who are refugees from other countries. In Kenya, our servant event team met a man by the name of Abai. He is a student at the Lutheran School of Theology studying to become a pastor. He is married now and has one son. Our team actually got to be there on the day of Abai’s confirmation and his son’s baptism.

Abai’s life was not always so nice, nor is it really all that nice now. Abai used to live in Ethiopia. But his tribe was slaughtered in an act of genocide. He and others escaped to a refugee camp in Kenya for safety. Over fifteen years later, he still lives as a refugee. In fact, many of the students we met in Kenya at the Lutheran School of Theology are refugees.

A refugee is one who has been forced to escape, to flee from their home for safety. That’s the way it was for Abai, and that’s the way it was for Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus. And just like Abai was protected, so we see in this story of Scripture, God’s prophesied protection was provided for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus as well. (Pause)

The magi had just left Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, but word was sent to Joseph in a dream by an angel that it was now time to pack their bags and head south to Egypt. And so that is what they did. They remained there until the death of Herod to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Once they had left, the terrible prophecy of the slaughtering of the innocents took place. This prophecy is recorded in the book of Jeremiah: Thus says the Lord: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15).

In a horrific event, those who were boys two years and younger were killed at the hand of a jealous King Herod who constantly lived in fear of losing his throne. Many lost their lives at his hand, and many consider these innocent little boys to be the first martyrs for Christ.

Once Herod had died, another angel appeared to Joseph to take Jesus and Mary back to Israel. But when they found out Herod’s son Archelaus was reigning in his place, God intervened by way of another dream, and in doing so fulfilled Scripture yet again, that He would be called a Nazarene.

God’s prophesied protection was provided. It was provided for Jesus and His parents, and it is also provided for you and me. We see here in this text God’s great provision and protection is provided for us.

Just like Herod was trying to destroy the Christ-child, so we have one who tries to destroy us as well. He is Satan, and he prowls around like a roaring lion, hiding behind every corner trying to destroy our faith.

He lurks in the darkness of deceit and deception with the sole goal of separating us from the Savior and from fellow Christians. That is how the devil operates. He is always looking to separate and isolate.

His desire is to make you and I spiritual refugees, isolated away from the Savior’s care and protection. Just take note of his tactics. Deceit and deception. Satan is a liar. Scripture calls him the father of all lies.

So, what lies is Satan telling you now? What are you being tempted to believe that is not true? How are you being lured away by the devil’s traps and trickery?

For King David, he believed the lie that committing adultery with Bathsheba and killing her husband Uriah was a good idea.

For King Ahab, he believed the lie that stealing a vineyard that belonged to Naboth and then killing him was a good idea.

For the majority of Jacob’s sons, they believed harming their brother Joseph and selling him into slavery was a good idea. 

Scripture’s examples may sound a bit extreme, but when we really examine our hearts, how could we not say that we are guilty of the sins of lust, hatred, coveting, and jealousy? If anything, we would probably have to say that our minds are often consumed with these thoughts.

And that is where the devil begins. The mind. He fills our minds with all sorts of deceptive temptations and lies in an effort to cut us off from others, and ultimately cut us off from God.

This is the tactic that he takes to try and drive us into despair and ultimately destroy our faith. He wants us to think that there is no hope.

For Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, they had every reason to think that there was no hope. They were being stalked by a ruthless king on a power trip. Herod was so extreme in his efforts to kill anyone who would threaten his position…even young boys two years old and younger. How threatening were they really? Would they really take his throne? Herod thought so.

It is hard for us to fathom such a reality. And yet here we are living in a country where abortion is legalized and approximately 60 million babies have been killed since the Roe v. Wade decision. Maybe it is not that unfathomable for us here in America, as innocent children are slaughtered every day.

I know it is hard to believe that we would talk about such things only a few days after Christmas here in the Christmas season. But this is the world that Jesus willingly and voluntarily came into.

We make the story of Jesus being born in a little nativity scene and we have this way of romanticizing it. We often think it just looks like this lovely picture of a loving family in an ever so clean animal shed.

But even if it was a clean stable, it was not a clean world that Jesus came into. It was a world filled with sin and shame. A world with a dictator dead set on killing him. And that wasn’t just Herod, that was the devil himself.

Lurking around every turn, there was Satan, assaulting Jesus with every temptation that he could throw at him. Remember when Jesus was in the wilderness right after He was baptized and had not eaten for forty days. That was a full frontal attack from the evil one that Jesus faced.

We see in that moment that Jesus was tempted just as we are. And He overcame those assaults for you and me. You and I are assaulted by Satan daily. Jesus was assaulted too, but He overcame so that we would have a way out when we are tempted.

A way out is exactly what Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were granted each time Joseph seemed to lay his head on his pillow in our text for today. For there in that sleep, an angel of the Lord came to him to offer the protection that was needed, the protection that had been prophesied.

God had promised all the protection that was provided in our text for today. He promised it, and it came to be, just as it had been foretold.

Just as God had promised Adam and Eve that He would send a Savior to crush the head of the wicked foe. God fulfills His promises. He fulfills his prophecies…for Adam and Eve, for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, and for you and me.

For here in the midst of this tumultuous time of the baby Jesus under attack, there is a beautiful reality present within this story. God protects them in order to protect us. He ensured that His Son would be safe because ultimately He had sent His Son with a mission to accomplish.

He had sent His Son to die. It wasn’t going to be at this time of Herod, but there would be another Herod involved some thirty years later…along with Caiaphas and Pilate, and a host of others all dead set on taking down the Son of God.

Only this time, the Father allowed it. As His Son cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” the Father turned the other way, and let Him die, because that is what it took to save us.

To save us from sin, death, and the attacks of the devil…We who were lost and separated from the Savior and only doomed to death and condemnation…We who were only to be left as refugees in the darkness of hell apart from Christ.

See here this day that God fulfills His prophecies to this little family fleeing Bethlehem so that we would ultimately be saved and protected from the attacks of the evil foe.

We are protected under the outstretched arms of our Savior. The same arms He stretched out on Calvary to save us. His shed blood upon the cross covers us and cleanses us of all the times we have fallen to Satan’s deceit and deception. We are forgiven, and we are freed.

We are released from the hold that Satan had upon us because the Savior of the world has given us a way out. No, it may not be in a dream with an angel like Joseph had. Instead, our way out comes in ways much more simple than that, but no less profound.

In a profound divine mystery, our Savior provides us His protection in the simple means of Words, water, bread, and wine. Through holy absolution, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, our God protects us with Himself from the assaults of the devil.

By our own reason or strength, we can’t fathom how this could be enough. But as we heard in the sermon a few weeks ago, there more here than meets the eye. For there in these means is none other than the crucified and resurrected Savior of the world. The King of all kings, and Lord of all lords. And the devil is simply no match for him.

So as we gather here as those who were once spiritual refugees lost in sin and doomed to death, let us constantly return here to God’s house. For here is where we find our home where His prophecies of protection are provided in His Son Jesus who was born to save us from our sins. Merry Christmas!

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.